Measuring Political Brand Equity in the Republic of Irelandon 14 April 2014
Ewan MacDonald, Roger Sherlock and John Hogan
Drawing upon French & Smith's (2010) work in the UK, we sought to understand the brand equity of Ireland's four largest political parties. "Brand equity is defined in terms of marketing effects uniquely attributable to the brand" (Keller, 1993: 1). What is particularly challenging is that a brand has no tangible properties. To discover how political brand equity is distributed among the parties we must uncover the strength, favourability and uniqueness of associations - the building blocks of brand equity (Keller, 1993). French & Smith’s approach to measuring political brand equity, through construction of mental maps, is a visual means in aiding our understanding of this concept.
In the elicitation stage 232 undergraduates, unprompted, were asked to write what came to mind when they think of a political party. From this we isolated distinct association. The second stage involved constructing individual brand concepts maps with a discrete group of 76 undergraduates as per John et al. (2006). These participants could employ associations gathered in the first stage.
Analysis involved digitising the hand drawn maps using Visual Understanding Environment (VUE) and aggregating the information into consensus map for each party. These provide an average representation of the cognitive structures of each political brand residing in the minds of the sample (John et al., 2006). Due to how unlinked associations may affect the equity of a brand, we feel that such information necessitates a slightly different approach to the maps of John et al. We show on the maps the percentage of times the association appears on individual maps to allows us observe marginal associations. We then assessed the centrality of the associations to determine which are most fundamental (French & Smith, 2010: 469). The next task was to analyse the valences of the attributes to determine the degree to which respondents viewed them in a positive, negative, or neutral light. This involved assessing each attribute on the aggregation map, and tallying the number of times respondents ascribed a plus or minus sign to it.
Fianna Fáil had the largest number of individual maps constructed - a total of 31 respondents.
We see an overwhelming presence of negative associations. Despite Ahern not leading Fianna Fáil since 2008, he was more frequently mentioned than the current leader. The absence of ideological associations is clear. The floating associations of debt, incompetent, greed, untrustworthy and self interest did not produce enough common links to tie them to the brand, or other associations, yet appeared frequently enough to warrant observation.
An impact might be made on the party's brand equity if it could distance itself from the noxious associations. The net valence, arrived at by subtracting the positive associations from negative associations and dividing by the total of associations, produces a favourability score (French & Smith, 2010) for Fianna Fáil (-8/23) of -0.35, where 1.0 is indicative of complete favourability. 83 percent of the Fianna Fáil aggregate map comprised of unique associations.
23 respondents created maps for Fine Gael.
That associations rarely move beyond the first order indicates a weak set of common cognitive structures around the brand. Enda Kenny appears a key constituent of the brand, but his place of origin and occupation hardly amount to compelling points of differentiation. As with Fianna Fáil, issues of cleavage hold little sway.
This aggregation map produced 23 associations. Eight floating associations indicate the structure of the brand is weaker than Fianna Fáil. This is not catastrophic, when the competition has an exceptionally dismal favourability score. Unlike Fianna Fáil, removing any node is unlikely to have an overwhelming impact on the structure of the map, the brand position and value attributed to it. We determine that Fine Gael has a negative favourability score of -0.04.
Sinn Féin attracted 14 participants to construct concept maps.
The dominant associations IRA and Northern Ireland are noticeable. Prominent party members feature; although unlike Fianna Fáil, all are currently in office. There are no associations with the recession or banking crisis. Association with the left wing ideology is weaker than with the War of Independence which occurred over 90 years ago.
This map produced 26 associations, 20 of which were linked to other associations and six of which were floating. This indicates that Sinn Féin is a stronger political brand among participants than the other parties. The favourability score was -0.11 with a uniqueness for approximately 85 percent of its associations. Given the degree of centrality of certain associations; from the perspective of this sample, it would be pertinent for anybody looking to manage Sinn Féin's brand equity to attempt to disassemble the link between such a prevalent, negative and central association.
As Labour attracted only 7 participants, the benefits from aggregating such a small number of maps is questionable.
Here we see the first significant appearance of ideology as a core association for an Irish political brand. The link between Labour, worker’s rights and working class representation indicates these associations are central to the brand. Eamon Gilmore, party leader, appears to play a significant role in the brand. This is the only party to possess positive brand equity +0.25. The uniqueness of associations on the aggregate map, at 92 percent, was highest.
Overall, we see the importance of leaders to party brands. Enda Kenny and Gerry Adams are both closely associated with their parties’ brands. Former party leaders Bertie Ahern and Brian Cowan are still connected with the Fianna Fáil brand, similar to what French & Smith (2010) found with Tony Blair’s association with the UK Labour Party. Each party has a high level of unique associations contradicting the notion that parties are becoming homogenous.
All of the parties, apart from Fianna Fáil, tend to maintain their historical brand associations. Fine Gael is linked with large farmers and conservatism, Sinn Féin with nationalism and Northern Ireland, and Labour with left wing politics and workers rights. Fianna Fáil, through is mismanagement of the economy, has severed its links with its historical brand associations, being largely associated with economic debacle. The individual and aggregated brand concept maps conformed to academic discourse on the unusual nature of the Irish political system; that it cannot be assessed in terms of traditional cleavage lines (Marks & Wilson, 2000).
John Hogan is a lecturer in International Political Economy at the Dublin Institute of Technology. Roger Sherlock is the head of the Department of Marketing Studies, also at the DIT. Together with Ewan MacDonald they will be presenting the paper on which this blog is based at the PSA Conference.
Image: Michal Osmenda CC BY-SA 2.0